One thing I love about working at MailChimp is that so many of my colleagues have secret powers. These often fall on the “life” side of the work/life balance. It’s not uncommon to find out that your coworkers are in a touring band, for instance, or knit clothing for their kids, or once remodeled their home with their own hands. Other times, those secret powers are more solidly in the realm of “work.” You might come across a Support Agent with stealthy PHP chops, a Delivery Engineer with a penchant for network security, or an Accountant who’s also a Linux administrator.
Secret powers are great, but they’re still secret, which means it can be a challenge to bring them into the light. That’s why we developed the MailChimp Apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships help qualified employees develop untapped skills and explore new roles throughout the company, resulting in more diverse and well-rounded teams, happier employees, and a stronger product.
MailChimp Apprenticeships are geared towards employees who are passionate and curious about exploring new roles (usually technical ones), but who don’t have the experience traditionally required. Apprentices spend 90 days on a new team working on projects specifically designed to cultivate their on-the-job skills and soaking up knowledge from their new manager and teammates. At the end of the 90 days, the apprentice is welcome to return to their previous position, a guarantee that allows our peeps to explore new options risk-free. But if an apprentice loves their new role, and the feeling’s mutual, their new manager may hire them into the role full-time.
The program was born on our Product team, with our VP of Development, Eric Muntz, taking inspiration from a similar program at Zappos, and our and Director of Engineering, Maura Kelly, building more process and documentation around it. Later, I worked with Scott Buchmann, my fellow Education Manager on the Culture team, to expand and standardize the program for the whole company.
Since we launched the program in 2016, 23 MailChimp employees have completed an apprenticeship. Apprentices have hailed from all over the company and have been hosted by 7 different departments. And the program has become an important part of our ongoing diversity initiatives. Nine of the 23 apprentices have been women, and 7 have been people of color.
So far, all of our apprentices have been made offers by their new managers at the end of their terms and all are working happily on their new teams. Here are 3 of their stories.
Previous role: Quantitative Research Analyst, Data
Apprenticeship: Security Analyst Apprentice
Current role: Security Engineer
My background is in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Before MailChimp, I worked in research labs in industry and academia and I wanted to do something different with my research skills.
Information security has been something that I’ve been interested in for a really long time. I grew up with computers and finding the boundaries of those things, finding the edges, was really appealing to me. I had a computer in the house since I was like 6, 7—I was building websites, and I got really into tinkering with the actual hardware.
I’d been to DEFCON before, and when the Data team started doing security auditing on one of our servers, I was like, “I’m really curious about this, I’d like to learn more,” so I sat in on those meetings. I tried to express as much as I could within the bounds of my role.
When the Security Apprenticeship opened up, it was the catalyst to get me across that bridge.
The first thing I did was research monitoring and logging tools. I tested 2 tools, and that ended up with us deciding that I just needed to write something instead. So I wrote a tool that scans servers for vulnerabilities and rootkits and emails our team with results.
I wanted to major in computer science in college but I was told, “Oh, it’s really hard, there’s a lot of math involved.” So I chose something that I felt wouldn’t be quite so intense. And I really, really, really regret that. I wonder a lot of times where I would’ve been now if I had gone with it initially. It’s not “too hard”—it’s just hard enough to be interesting and challenging and fulfilling.
Making this change on my own would’ve been hard, honestly. I didn’t have any experience on paper. I had interest and I knew things, but I didn’t have any certifications. Certifications are a fairly big thing in the security industry. I don’t think I would’ve been able to shift as easily and fluidly without the apprenticeship. I could’ve done it—I would’ve been determined enough to do it—but it would’ve been really challenging.
I wake up excited to get here—not that I didn’t before, but even moreso now. I’m learning so much and getting to solve so many interesting unique types of problems. I just want to be a better engineer. I want to write better code. I want to know more things.
Previous role: ONC Support
Apprenticeship: Delivery Apprentice
Current role: Delivery Engineer
Before MailChimp, I ran my own business for 3 years. Before that, I spent 5 years in financial aid for private colleges. I started here on the Overnight Crew, what we call ONC. I was itching to do something more.
Probably in any other circumstance I wouldn’t have been given this shot. In most instances I’ve encountered, no matter how much you know, it’s what’s on paper that matters. And my thing is, you know, I didn’t finish college. And most companies wouldn’t even speak to me. So to have someone say, "You know what, I believe you, I think you can do it," and they give you the support to do it—it’s invigorating and it gives you a drive to want to do more.
I worked with another Delivery Apprentice to track reputation score trends for users. I worked with SQL, wrote Bash Scripts, worked in the command line. I was researching and looking at trends and working on-call.
I’m a sponge and I absorb information, so if there’s anything that I wanna learn how to do, I do it.
There’s still so much I don’t know, but it’s cool because there are so many highly intelligent people on our team that can help me figure it out.
At the same time, I offer a different take on things. My customer service still comes out—I think about the end user in a way that someone doing things on the back end might not really consider. And I was a MailChimp user before I worked here. It’s really cool being on this side of things.
Ultimately makes you a better person, knowing what you want out of your career—and at the same time, it makes you a better asset to that company. When you have more people who know what they are, it allows them to do what they’re best at.
The beautiful thing about the way the program is presented is that I knew I could always go back to my previous role. At the same time, I started the apprenticeship knowing that I wanted to give it my all—unless there was a red flag someplace, this is what I saw myself doing. It thankfully worked out.
Previous role: Support Quality Control Specialist
Apprenticeship: Operations Project Specialist Apprentice
Current role: Junior Ops Project Manager
When I was a kid, my parents got us a computer and I did things to it and they got scared. I was messing around on the internet, doing basic HTML, but programming and computer science sounded out of my league. And at my tiny, rural Alabama school they weren’t pushing it, either. But I wish I had seen that path earlier in my life.
When I got to MailChimp I was really regretting that—why did I get a pointless photography degree?
Being in Support for 5 years, I felt super burned out. I liked helping customers, I was good at it, but I wanted a challenge, to use a new part of my brain. I was also thinking, “I really wish I had gone into infrastructure or programming side of things.”
When I started thinking about where I might fit in other departments, Ops stood out to me because I wanted to learn more about our infrastructure and really dig into a more technical side of the company.
At first it was like, “An apprenticeship sounds amazing, I’m gonna go do it!” And then when I started I was like, “Why did I say I would do this? I was so good at my previous job, why am I doing something where I have no idea what’s going on?” But it’s been good for me. I’m still figuring it out, but I get along with my team really well.
The Ops Ops team is focused on helping teams collaborate, providing training and documentation, and helping make projects more productive.
My main project was digging into workflow metrics in order to establish a baseline that we could use to track improvements. I started standardizing the onboarding process in Ops, and that continued as my focus after I was officially added to the team.
Learning more and getting deeper into infrastructure is one of my personal goals. I really want to learn how this works and be able to follow it.
I probably could’ve stayed in my old role and done more reading on infrastructure and networking in my spare time, but I would’ve never gotten the level of experience I did in the apprenticeship. There’s really nothing like being completely submerged in a new role in helping you learn how things work.